Office of Equity finds one violation; Superintendent pledges district-wide reform
BOSTON — Thursday, February 18, 2016 — Boston Public Schools (BPS) announced today that the district’s Office of Equity has completed an internal investigation of alleged violations of the district’s internal nondiscrimination policies at Boston Latin School (BLS). The executive summary of the investigation will be posted to bostonpublicschools.org.
“Racial intolerance should never be accepted in any Boston public school,” said BPS Superintendent Tommy Chang. “This is deeply personal to me as someone who had similar experiences growing up as an immigrant in the United States. I am fully committed to ensuring that no student should ever feel unsafe in any of our schools. BLS must take a critical examination of itself, in particular around issues of race and culture.”
According to the executive summary, the Office of Equity’s inquiry focused on all reports to BLS administrators of student incidents related to race and ethnicity between November 2014 and January 2016. The review identified a total of seven incidents during that time period, and determined that the internal policy was violated in one of those incidents.
The substantiated violation was in relation to a student using a racial slur and making a threatening remark toward another student in November 2014. The review found BLS did not adequately investigate the incident, did not adequately discipline the student, nor take appropriate steps to ensure the support and safety of the targeted student.
In another November 2014 incident, in which students presented administrators a binder with printouts of social media posts that contained racist and offensive speech, the review found BLS did not violate district nondiscrimination policies and procedures. In this case, BLS administrators determined that the most offensive remarks were made by people who live outside of Massachusetts and who were not BLS students. Additionally, four BLS students who made racially insensitive remarks on Twitter, which were contained in the binder, were required to meet one-on-one with administrators to discuss their conduct, the review found. There were no further issues with the four students after these meetings.
The Office of Equity submitted a set of extensive recommendations to Superintendent Chang designed to enhance protocols and procedures at BLS; improve the culture and climate at the school; sustain an anti-racism initiative; and train students and staff at BLS and across the district on racial awareness and cultural proficiency, including student-, Equity Office-, and community-led workshops.
While student and employee discipline are subject to privacy protections under the law, the Superintendent stated he intends to implement all recommendations proposed by the Office of Equity, both at BLS and system-wide across the district.
“A guiding principle of Boston Public Schools is to ensure that every school provides a safe, respectful, and responsible environment for all students,” Chang said. “I am grateful for the Office of Equity’s comprehensive investigation and recommendations, which lay the foundation of important work at Boston Latin and throughout the district. We now have an incredible opportunity in Boston Public Schools to embrace a culturally sustainable education for all students.”
Proactively, prior to the investigation’s completion, BPS had already completed equity protocols training for all principals and headmasters, and begun planning educational sessions with students and staff around issues of diversity and cultural proficiency. As an immediate step, BLS shared a six-point plan with the BLS community last month.
Among the recommendations to improve the climate at BLS, the Office of Equity has asked BLS Headmaster Lynne Mooney Teta and others to institute a racial climate audit before the close of this school year and again next year; immediately launch dialogues on race and ethnicity with the school community, including members of the student social justice organization Black Leaders Aspiring for Change and Knowledge (BLS B.L.A.C.K.); and to work with the district to increase the hiring of Black and Latino teachers for the 2016-2017 school year.
BPS is using the recommendations as an opportunity to reset how it addresses allegations of racism in schools, with school administrators now being asked to report these types of allegations directly to the Office of Equity, which in turn reports directly to Superintendent Chang.
“The School Committee is supportive of Dr. Chang’s administration’s efforts to improve the cultural climate not only at Boston Latin School, but across the entire district,” said Boston School Committee Chairman Michael O’Neill. “We deeply appreciated the student leaders of BLS B.L.A.C.K. addressing the School Committee in January, and we look forward to working with Dr. Chang to ensure that the district provides the support necessary to fully institute the Office of Equity’s recommendations.”
Superintendent Chang announced he is backing the Office of Equity’s recommendations, including a commitment to study exam school admission practices with the intent to draw qualified students from a broader demographic pool. Dr. Chang is also pledging to find funding to support the district’s Office of Opportunity and Achievement Gaps; and said that, effective immediately, the Assistant Superintendent of the Office of Equity will report directly to the Superintendent.
Chang thanked the student leaders of BLS B.L.A.C.K. for bringing their concerns into the public dialogue through a thoughtful and powerful social media campaign last month. [Chang first praised the students at the Jan. 27 School Committee meeting.]
“These two young women took a very courageous stance by demanding that issues of race be at the forefront at BLS and across the district,” Chang said. “Racism has a long history in this country and city. We will not solve this issue overnight, but we are committed to using this investigation as a systemic intervention. I look forward to working together with students and faculty to lead Boston Public Schools toward positive change.”
The Office of Equity findings and recommendations were reviewed by Kenneth B. Grooms & Associates. Grooms is a longtime Boston-area civil rights attorney, investigator, and adjudicator.
“I believe the Boston Public Schools conducted a thorough and comprehensive investigation,” Grooms said. “It is encouraging to see the district begin to make deep structural shifts toward an inclusive climate for all.”